Dark Angel

By: Tracy Grant


London, September 1808

Adam woke quickly, as he always did, conscious of the light in the doorway and the sound of someone's breathing. He looked up and saw Hawkins grinning at him. Hawkins, damn his eyes, always enjoyed the unexpected. Adam turned quickly on his side and sat up, his feet recoiling from the cold floor. "What's the hour?"

"Just past one," said Hawkins cheerfully.

Adam groaned. "God's teeth, this is London. Can't it wait?"

"You've got a visitor."

The band of pain surrounding Adam's temples tightened. He had been up at six this morning, and since the unpleasant interview with Jared Rawley he had drunk far more than was sensible. He swung his legs back into the warmth of the blankets. "Tell him I'm too drunk to talk. Tell him to leave me a message. Tell him to come back in three days' time." Adam pulled the covers over his head. "Tell him to go away."

The covers were jerked unceremoniously back. The lamp was now shining directly in his eyes and Adam put up a hand in protest. "It's a lady," Hawkins said. "She won't tell me her business. She won't go away." Hawkins's face conveyed a rude sympathy. "You'd best get up. She's prepared to spend the night."

These words brought Adam to his feet. "Be a good fellow, get me my clothes. I won't face the wench without my breeches." His voice felt thick with brandy and sleep, and he was aware of a growing anger. "I've been back in England less than three weeks. I don't know any women. Stay with me, Hawkins. It's a jest or a jape or a trap. I don't take kindly to traps."

"And I won't say much for your sense of humor." Hawkins held out the doeskin breeches which Adam had removed less than an hour since.

Adam grinned, his good spirits restored. Hawkins had a cheerful face and was equal to any situation. A compactly-built man, quick and economical in his movements and light on his feet, he was stronger than he appeared. Though Adam topped him by a head or more, he was never conscious of the difference in their height.

"She's rare upset," Hawkins went on, "and trying not to show it. Impatient, too. Not used to waiting. Do you want a cravat?"

"Yes, everything. I won't have it said I was careless in receiving a lady." Adam took the cravat and stared at his friend. "I suppose she is a lady?"

"All the signs."

"Take care," Adam warned, shrugging into his coat. "In this sinkhole that is London the doxies look like ladies and the ladies look like—"

Hawkins pointed to the bedroom door. Adam took a deep breath and entered the sitting room.

A brace of candles had been lit on the round center table, but the woman waiting for him had retreated to the windows. Adam could barely make out her form. Hawkins proceeded to light the candles that stood in brackets on the walls. With each new flare the woman grew clearer to Adam's sight, though the hooded dark cloak she wore obscured both face and figure. Adam broke the silence. "Madam, you have something to say to me?"

He thought she shuddered, but it might have been a trick of the wavering light. With a slow graceful gesture she raised her hand and pushed back the hood of her cloak. Adam caught his breath. "It's all right, Hawkins," he murmured, his eyes fixed on the woman's face.

Hawkins vanished, the soft click of the door the only sign of his going. Adam was conscious of nothing save the woman and the beating of the pulse in his temples and the great cry of longing ready to tear itself from his throat. He closed his eyes for a moment and found his voice. "Mrs. Rawley, I believe."

"Yes," she said impatiently. "Adam—" She moved toward him, then stopped abruptly. "May I sit down?"

"I'm sorry." He gestured to a chair. "Can I get you anything? A glass of wine?"

She sat down, untied the fastening of her cloak, and threw it back from her shoulders. "Nothing, thank you," she said, occupying herself in arranging the folds of her dress. She was dressed for some elaborate entertainment. Her gown, cut low to show off the swell of her breasts, was of a shiny rose-colored material over an underdress in a softer shade of the same color. The pale hair, silvery blond streaked with brown, had been carefully coiffed, piled high on her head with a tangle of ringlets left free to frame her face, as though to say the formality of her appearance was all a game. She wore jewels, too, diamonds, or perhaps paste. In the dim light Adam could not tell the difference. They glittered at her throat and the lobes of her ears, catching the wavering flames of the candles. She looked nothing like the girl he had once known.